Boris Johnson hinted that Germany may be concerned about imposing sanctions on Russia over its reliance on Russian gas and told MPs diplomatic efforts were being made to persuade Berlin and others to go further away.
Britain’s prime minister said ‘European friends’ feared imposing the toughest possible sanctions on Russia if it invaded Ukraine because of their ‘heavy reliance’ on Russian gas – and also said the Kingdom United would be ready to deploy more troops in Eastern Europe. if Ukraine was attacked.
Johnson was making the statement to MPs a day after an evening call between Western leaders including US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron.
“I think the house needs to understand that one of the big problems we all face in our relationship with Ukraine, in our relationship with Russia, is the heavy reliance on our European friends, especially on screw Russian gas,” Johnson said.
“It was clear in the conversations last night that in this era of high gas prices, we come up against this reality. So the job of our diplomacy now is to persuade and encourage our friends to go too far as they can to fix this and come up with a tough economic sanctions package, because that is what this situation demands,” the Prime Minister added.
Johnson was responding to a question from SNP leader in the Commons, Ian Blackford. The prime minister initially said Western allies were still talking about cutting Russia off from the Swift global payment system in the event of an invasion.
“I’m afraid it can only really be deployed with the help of the United States. We are in discussion about this,” he added. However, over the weekend, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had expressed doubts about the idea.
Labor leader Keir Starmer said Russia should be hit with “widespread and severe sanctions” which he said must include cutting off its access to the international financial system. He also called on Johnson to stop Britain being used to launder Russian money: “If we take our global security obligations seriously, we cannot continue to allow ourselves to be the laundry automatic control of the world for illicit finance.”
Other participants in the evening video call were the leaders of Italy, Poland, the EU and NATO. Germany depends on Russia for around a third of its gas supplies, while Johnson said the UK imports around 3%.
The plan, Johnson said, was to impose “coordinated and severe economic sanctions heavier than anything we’ve done before against Russia” – and that efforts were underway to “finalize these measures as quickly as possible to to maximize their deterrent effect”.
The sanctions would target Russian figures and companies, Johnson added in a later response to Tory MP Tom Tugendhat.
Britain would also be willing to deploy more troops to Eastern Europe if Russia were to invade. “We would seek to contribute to any further NATO deployments,” the prime minister said.
On Monday, the United States said it would put 8,500 troops on alert to deploy to Europe if needed, while France said it was ready to send forces to Romania.
In response, Russia said it was watching with great concern. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Washington of stoking tensions around Ukraine – repeating Moscow’s line that the crisis is caused by US and NATO actions rather than by its own buildup of around 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border.
Earlier, Britain had warned that Russian elements were already preparing the ground for an attack in Ukraine. James Heappey, Minister of Defence, writing in the sunsaid: “As of this writing, we become aware of a significant number of individuals who are assessed to be associated with Russian military force operations and currently located in Ukraine.”
British defense sources said the warning was based on intelligence and added to a warning issued on Saturday by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss of a Kremlin plot to install a pro-Moscow government in Ukraine.
Forward force operations is a US military term and covers any activity, from reconnaissance and surveillance to information warfare, aimed at softening up a local population before a potential attack.